[before launching into more about tables... i would like to say i enjoyed very much alli warren's reading [I and eye] at new yipes easter sunday... and also bruce boone's... and i'm very sorry i did not pick up a bound to get fuller cd... are there any left? if so... can i get one?]
It is here, in regards to autobiography, I must invoke Derrida from his essay/interview “This Strange Institution Called Literature,” “[a]utobiography is perhaps the least inadequate name, because it remains for me the most enigmatic, the most open, even today. At this moment, here, I’m trying, in a way that would commonly be called “autobiographical,” to remember what happened when the desire came to me, in a way that was as obscure as it was compulsive, both powerless and authoritarian” (34). There is a need to document, to ‘trace,’ event and non-event,inside ‘autobiography.’ Also stated in the preface of The Spirit-Rapper is the desire of the author to “write a book, easy to write and not precisely hard to read” (1). Is the confession of what will be called ‘exterior life’ something that is not easy to write? Hard to read? We shall come to this soon.
Brownson’s speaker, being narrator and spirit-rapper, is an action in and of himself: he is the embodiment of the trace, which is interesting as he in many ways is a disembodied voice. [Here is an attempt to list of the ways he embodies trace and then a list of disembodied voice]
He is representative of the text, the “I” of the text, as well as the enabler of the text. Without the spirit-rapper there is no story.
He is the narrator of a story that is his and therefore according to him. This story, however, is a not-biography, and therefore not his story. Or, at the very least, not his story if he is a “real individual.” (Wouldn’t that, then, make this story a novel? And why is it not any of these things, according to Brownson?) Along with this confusion and at the same time he states, “[o]f my exterior life I have not much to record, for though few have played a more active or important part in the great events of the past few years, my name has rarely been connected with them before the public.” (italics mine, 3). This is as much as he will ever say in regards to his name. His statement accomplishes two things: 1. divides the interior from the exterior life, giving a higher degree of importance to the interior life that, in order for the story to be written, must in fact be recordable, must be eventful; and 2. makes his existence, if not his name, a major influence upon the world, making his story not only his, but that of the world: history. And indeed it is a world history. Let us go one step at a time.
1. “of my exterior life I have not much to record”
Here the narrator has divided life into at least two discrete realms: exterior life / interior life. It follows, then, which “life” is recordable: eventful: historical. If, as he states, there is “not much to record,” why then belabor the point by bringing into the foreground? [The temptation is to state : It is simply a rhetorical device.] The truth is there is much to record concerning this “exterior life.” This rhetorical device, the humble lie, is an example of unconfession because it does nothing to clear the air, it does nothing to restore nor to redeem confession-maker, and in fact operates as an undoing of the confession by rendering the confession unnecessary. For to confess something is to “overcome guilt and shame,” and here then, nothing is overcome. If there exists nothing or “not much to record” of the “exterior life,” then there is nothing to confession, or at least very little, because there is no action. Once again, there is doubt, as the impulse to not mark overtakes the narrator, and his confession.
2. “ for though few have played a more active or important part in the great events of the past few years, my name has rarely been connected with them before the public.”
If in fact this statement is true, what is at stake? The unimportance of this ‘exterior life’ is based on the lack of public connection. What is ‘exterior life’ but public connection? Does the fact that the name of the narrator is unknown absolve him of sin? Or action? Does this deathbed confession have any confession in it? If the narrator so plays an “active” and “important role” in history, and refuses to mark himself in that role, I would think that his confession would be a confession of mere vanity.
We have an opposing situation in Rousseau’s confession: Rousseau was caught with the ribbon. Here, in this narrative, the evidence is missing. There is no evidence other than what lays upon the mind of the speaker. Here I bring de Man in again:
The difference between the verbal excuse and the referential crime is not a simple opposition between an action and a mere utterance about an action. To steal is to act and includes no necessary verbal elements. To confess is discursive, but the discourse is governed by a principle of referential verification that includes an extraverbal moment: even if we confess that we said something (as opposed to did), the verification of this verbal event, the decision about the truth or falsehood of its occurrence, is not verbal but factual, the knowledge that the utterance actually took place. (281)
We must then, according to de Man, find the factual evidence for this verbal confession. What we have so far is a lack of utterance, however. There are several moments of what is deemed by the narrator to be unremarkable, moments that utterance is not only possible but essential to confession. What is our evidence? Where is our ribbon?